Nurses have a term for a particularly grueling day: toxic. Imagine dealing with a toddler patient who refuses to take his meds, while a demanding relative of another patient is asking questions that they should have asked the doctor, and not having had a break for the last 4 hours. Double that. No, quadruple that, and that’s what nurses have to contend with on a usual day. For healthcare professionals, toxic stress is just par for the course.

When it all becomes too much

I’ve seen some posts on nurses’ forums about wanting to give up on the profession itself. There are also others who are questioning their decision to become healthcare professionals in the first place. There was a poignant story (don’t click the link if you don’t want to cry) I’ve read where this doctor had the mother of a former patient come in to donate the unused medicines that her now-deceased son left.

Leave it all at the end of your shift

Healthcare Professionals: Dealing with Toxic Stress
There are days you worry if you left your patient with dementia in the hallway.

There are many ways to deal with toxic stress. I know it’s not as easy for healthcare professionals. You deal with life and death situations for breakfast. Sometimes you’re still thinking of that patient in Ward 6 and if you gave the correct dosage of meds or if your dosage computation was fatal. Or if your handover was complete. Or that hospital admin who treats you like her personal assistant and the others like servants.

Practice mindfulness

You need to disconnect from everything at the end of your shift. My mindfulness coach said to clean your mind, to empty it out. It can simply mean playing a video game where you don’t need to think at all, or doing puzzles. Yoga is also a great way to deal with toxic stress. Some of you may scoff and think that you’re already exercised out with all the standing, running, and lifting that you do. Yoga stretches out not just the knots in your muscles, the “om” mantra is also an amazing way to unknot your thoughts.

Remember why you wanted to be a healthcare professional

Healthcare Professionals: Dealing with Toxic Stress
Thank you for your service.

When you just want to give up on your profession, remember why you chose this in the first place. Ultimately, hark back to the reasons why you chose to be a nurse, a doctor, or a therapist. You may have wanted to help people when you were a kid. Or you may have wanted to serve others. You may have chosen to become a nurse to get abroad and help your family. At the end of the day, you are helping people. And yes, as the doctor from my story said, tomorrow is another day.